Virginia Woolf

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Short Stories Challenge – Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published June 19, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s Kew Gardens all about?:

Kew Gardens is the first of two short stories under the heading: Stories to help you rejoice in the beauty of nature and follows a variety of different characters on their passage through the gardens on a hot July day.

What did I think?:

Oh dear, here’s where I make a little confession – I’ve actually never read any of Virginia Woolf’s work before! After reading this beautiful little story however I have made it my mission to read her whole back catalogue. The prose is absolutely delicious, the characters intriguing and it gives the reader so many themes to interpret that I pronounce the woman is a bloody genius. There is no plot in this story so as to speak, it revolves around a group of people visiting Kew Gardens in the early twentieth century. Before we get to our characters, Woolf blows your mind with poetic descriptions of the flowers, colours and a solitary snail just trying to make its way through the grass from A to B.

The first people to pass by the snail are a husband, wife and their two children. Immediately my biblio-senses began tingling as something didn’t seem quite right:

“The man was about six inches in front of the woman, strolling carelessly, while she bore on with greater purpose, only turning her head now and again to see that the children were not too far behind. The man kept this distance in front of the woman purposely, though perhaps unconsciously, for he wished to go with his thoughts.”

It’s amazing how much Woolf manages to cram in for the reader in these short sentences that I immediately tried beginning to make sense of. First of all, the state of their marriage – why must she walk behind him? Why does he stroll carelessly and she with greater purpose? I think Woolf was making a statement on the role of women at the time of writing when compared to the all powerful male. He does this purposely and at the same time unconsciously because, quite simply, he is a man, this is how he has been raised therefore it is seen as a natural movement. Fair enough, he has some thoughts to process but he doesn’t seem to realise that she may have thoughts also – her focus has to be that of the children. And what are his great thoughts? Well, he is reminiscing about another time he had at Kew Gardens in his youth where he was rejected by a woman called Lily whom he had proposed to! If I was his wife, I would be seriously offended.

The snail in the grass begins to contemplate the journey he has ahead of him before the second group of people arrive to gaze at the flowers. This time it is a younger man and an elderly gentleman (possibly father and son?), the former wearing an expression of “unnatural calm,” which makes sense when we read that the old man is senile. The younger must have infinite patience with him but is quiet and steady as the old man also falls into talking about memories of his past and summoning spirits (?) before getting confused and is gently led away. We get the sense that the flowers remind the old man of his youth and approaching death and it’s quite a powerful few paragraphs to read.

There are other visitors too who all seem to fall into a kind of trance when surrounded by the flowers but I’d rather not tell the whole story and leave you to discover it for yourself. The characters range in age and class (the latter being especially important in the early twentieth century as there seemed to be a clear divide in society). Despite their differences, it is a setting where they can all enjoy a day out in the sunshine, take a break from the reality of “normal” life and become mesmerised by the beauty of nature taking each individual to a special place in their own memories. What’s Woolf trying to say? So many things which range from gender roles, youth and death to class and society. The powerful message that comes across for me is that at the end of the day we are all part of nature and taking a break from reality while basking in what nature has to offer us can only be a good thing for our survival as a species. I loved every moment of this wonderful story, the writing is flawless and had the effect of making me re-read entire paragraphs over and over again just to try and absorb it a little more. Can I say I’m a Virginia Woolf fan now?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The Jaunt by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.



Short Stories Challenge 2015 – April to June

Published April 3, 2015 by bibliobeth


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I’m so glad I started this challenge, I’ve discovered some real gems of stories and brilliant new authors. I never thought of myself as a short story fan but now I can say that I know what all the fuss is about. Here’s what I’m going to be reading from April to June this year.

Week beginning 6th April 

Roots And All by Brian Hodge from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 13th April 

The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 20th April 

Bloodsport by Tom Cain from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7

Week beginning 27th April 

The Smoothest Way Is Full Of Stones by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 4th May 

Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 11th May 

The Jaunt by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 18th May 

Camp Sundown by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Week beginning 25th May 

The Giant’s Boneyard by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 1st June 

A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker from the collection The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives of Women, 100 Great Stories

Week beginning 8th June 

Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules For Antarctic Tailgating by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 15th June 

The Man With The Twisted Lip by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 22nd June 

The Nightlong River by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 29th June 

Narrative of Agent 97-4702 by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

The Village In The Jungle – Leonard Woolf

Published December 31, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Village in the Jungle

What’s it all about?:

This classic novel of colonial Ceylon (Sri Lanka), was first published in 1913 and is written by a prominent member of the Bloomsbury group, husband of Virginia Woolf. It reads as if Thomas Hardy had been born among the heat, scent, sensuality and pungent mystery of the tropics. Translated into both Tamil and Sinhalese, it is one of the best-loved and best-known stories in Sri Lanka. It includes a new biographical afterword by Sir Christopher Ondaatje, author of “Woolf in Ceylon”, and a short story, “Pearls before Swine”, which vividly draws on Woolf’s experience as a young District Commissioner. This book reeks of first-hand knowledge of the colonial experience, and of its profound, malign disregard for the psychology and culture of its subject peoples.
What did I think?:
Leonard Woolf is probably most famous for his marriage to Virginia but was also a noted political theorist, publisher (The Hogarth Press) and “leader” of the notorious Bloomsbury Group. As Woolf spent seven years in Ceylon as a colonial officer, he had first hand knowledge of the area which makes the book more authentic in my eyes. It is set in Ceylon around 1900 and follows the villagers of Beddegama (which means literally “the village in the jungle”)through their daily struggles. Although there are quite a few characters our main focus is a man called Silindu who beat his wife after she dared to give birth to daughters (after all, what use are they?!) but gradually comes to dote upon them, especially when they show interest in the jungle, which pleases him no end and he tells them many tales and folklore about the animals they should respect, and the demons that they should fear. However when his daughters grow up, their beauty attracts some unwanted attention and presents many problems for Silindu as he strives to keep them by his side, and protect them from evil. Silindu is also suffering with unpaid debts and being able to provide food for his family is a toil, with starvation and sickness ever looming.
The short story “Pearls before Swine” is also provided in this book, and felt like quite a contrast from the village of Beddegama. It is told by an unnamed narrator, whom after foolish comments from some upper middle class Englishmen in a club, tells a tale of how he supervised a pearl fishery assisted by a man called White who dies a horrible death in the throes of delirium tremens. This is compared to the death of an Arab fisherman which seems on the other hand to be serene and somewhat noble.
I really enjoyed The Village in the Jungle much more than I thought I would. It is a vivid, moving tale of how the villagers struggled with day-to-day life and things that we take for granted, such as having enough to eat. I loved the strange and superstitious character of Silindu, and felt sorry for the tragedies he suffered trying to protect his daughters, his constant hunger and worry about his debts and the almost obsessive worries over demons in the jungle trees. The prose flows beautifully throughout this story and as a reader I got a real sense of the place and time which I felt was captured perfectly. I didn’t get on as well with the short story Pearls before Swine, although I appreciate the message Woolf was trying to convey and thought it was written well.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):

Letters and Journals – Katherine Mansfield, C.K. Stead (editor)

Published August 27, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

This book contains a selection of letters and extracts from Katherine Mansfield’s journal. The book looks at the “tremendous trifles of life” – the funny, ridiculous and exasperating – as well as inhabiting a dimension that transcends the everyday. “The Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield” demonstrates how the author comes to terms with the problems of living and dying, pain and fear, loneliness, with her own creativity, with friendship and above all with the enduring love she had for her husband.

What did I think?:

I didn’t really know too much about Katherine Mansfield until earlier this year, when I noticed that her name kept cropping up in books I was reading. Then a book group that I participate in picked the book Mansfield by C.K. Stead, which is a fictionalised account of Katherine’s life, to read one month. I wasn’t entirely sure about that book (please see my post HERE), but it is only since reading the Letters and Journals, that a few pieces have slotted into place. Katherine Mansfield was originally from New Zealand, but spent a lot of her time in England and France, where she felt that she completed all of her best writing. She became famous mainly for her short stories, but also for her friendships with other literary persons such as D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, the latter being responsible for publishing some of her work. She contracted tuberculosis, which plagued her and left her bed-ridden at times, and led to her death at the untimely age of 34.

Unfortunately, I cannot really comment on Mansfield’s short fiction, haven’t not read any of it at the moment, but I plan to change this very soon. From her letters to her second husband Murry, and her journal entries, she comes across as a bright, vivacious, and entertaining person, with a beautifully descriptive way with language, even in her own private words. I particularly love the poem she wrote about her beloved brother, Leslie “Chummie” Beauchamp after he was killed in the war, fighting in France. The ending lines are particularly poignant:

By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands…
“These are my body. Sister, take and eat.”

I think Katherine was an incredibly complex yet interesting person on the whole. She was clearly passionate about the people she loved, but appeared to be slightly flighty, and could switch loyalties as she chose. She separated from Murry a few times, although he certainly was the love of her life, and had some brief affairs which she seemed to plunge into feet first. I loved reading about her friendship with D.H. Lawrence, who used Katherine as his inspiration for Gudrun in his novel Women In Love, his fiery personality and tempestuous partnership with his wife was fascinating to read about. Although I did enjoy the writings of Katherine Mansfield, I probably wouldn’t read this book again, in parts it was fairly disjointed and difficult to take in, although I appreciate that sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to place letters in exact sequence of events! I will definitely try and slot in some of her work, as she seems to have captured my interest.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art